Provocation as a Way of Life
A flatshare in Buffalo, New York, where the "Muslim Punks" gather for prayers every Friday afternoon. A hole in the wall, made with a baseball bat, indicates the direction of Mecca. Prayer mats are rolled out alongside empty beer bottles and pizza boxes. Anyone can have a shot at being the imam: sometimes it's Rabeya the feminist – a woman who wears a burka covered in various punk band sew-on patches and who only prays when she feels like it.
At other times Jehangir leads the prayers – a permanently drunk guy with a Mohican, leather jacket and an electric guitar slung around his neck. As soon as the sun goes down, it's time for sex, punk rock and partying in this particular house.
In the novel, a Taqwacore community is established with numerous Muslim punk bands. "There was a boy in Texas who thought it was all real. He wanted me to introduce him to the people in the book," says Knight, describing an encounter with one reader. "I told him I'd made it all up. That there's no such thing as Taqwacore. And he said: But I'm Taqwacore and I always was." The boy then went on to form a Muslim punk band, naming it after one of the bands in the novel: "Vote Hezbollah".
"Not all Muslims are the same, and there are many complexities within the Islamic world," explains Knight. Today, he says, he has found his "peace in humility towards Allah". As a devout Muslim, scholar of Islam and writer, he continues to engage with the subject of American Islam.
The heroes of his novel "Taqwacore" transgress boundaries that also present themselves to Muslims in real life. Not all of them fit into the classic scheme and practice their faith – just as in the case of other religions. Some Muslims don't pray or fast, others drink alcohol, party to excess, have extramarital sex, are homosexual, and perhaps eat salami on the sly.
With this in mind, "Taqwacore" also means having the courage to lead an existence as a failed but uncompromisingly honest Muslim. Without a mask that maintains false pretences. Without double standards and self-deception. Without fear of being true to oneself. In this regard, the first-person narrator has wise advice for all Muslims: "If you don't pray, then don't behave as though you do. You don't need to get a complex and think you're worse than all the most devoutly faithful in the world. Be a Muslim on your own terms. And tell the world it can go to hell!"
Naima El Moussaoui
© Qantara.de 2012
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de